Early afternoon Tuesday, after a good lunch and even better conversation, I spoke to the Kiwanis International weekly meeting at the Read House. Here is what, mostly, I told them.
That we -- all of us, you, me, the butcher, baker and candlestick maker -- are all connected in ways deep and profound.
Not small-town connections. Not "your-old-college-roommate-plays-golf-with-my-chiropractor" type of connections. But real, deep, profound, physical and metaphysical ways.
When the tornadoes hit in April 2011, the only thing equal to the massive devastation was the massive outpouring of help. Many times, these were stories of strangers helping strangers. Donating money, chain saw labor, time or belongings to someone they didn't know who needed great help.
On every street corner of this tri-state area is a story of someone helping someone else. Lending a hand, lending a $20 bill, baking some bread, saving a life in one way or another. Often this happens among friends, but just as much, it happens among strangers.
When we hear about a child dying from leukemia, or a lost dog making it home after walking 500 miles, or a soldier making a surprise visit home to hug his wife ... we're affected. Even if we don't know them.
When that late-night commercial comes on -- the one with the dogs and cats behind kennel bars -- we turn the channel, don't we? When "America's Funniest Home Videos" shows the man getting whacked in the fastballs by his son swinging the whiffleball bat, we feel it (and laugh), don't we? Why?
When we hear about a man losing his son to AIDS but finding his faith along the way, a police officer being shot and killed in a robbery, a former gang member getting tuition anonymously paid so he can go to college ... we're affected.
Logically, this makes no sense. Why should we feel an emotional response to the lives of strangers? Why would Kiwanis devote time and money to saving lives of children thousands of miles away, in countries half-forgotten and never visited?
Because we are bound up with one another. Our truest reality is relational, not a survival-of-the-fittest struggle. We are wired to feel empathy and compassion toward one another.
We are created to love our neighbor as ourselves.
"America's Funniest Home Videos" teaches us that seeing other people -- laughing or hurting -- affects us. Empathy and compassionate action are the consequences. We see others hurting, and we respond. Or at least want to.
I'm interested in exploring what this means for our city. What if we began to understand that the health of the entire city affects each of us? That the violence in one part affects all. That the generosity of one neighborhood spreads, in ways known and unknown. Like an ecology. Or the human body.
A few columns ago, I wrote about my morning at Metropolitan Ministries, the McCallie Avenue service agency so necessary that people line up as early as 3:30 a.m. to have a spot in line when the doors open at 8 a.m.
I based my column around Dennis and Gwen Gallian, a North Georgia couple whose story is best told through the old Stephen Foster tune: "Hard times, come again no more."
After that column appeared, I heard from many of you, asking for an answer to one question: How can I help?
Readers donated money to MetMin. Lots. Someone brought in three $100 bills to EPB, which in turn brought them to MetMin, which applied them to the Gallians' North Georgia Electric power bill.
I should have never been surprised.
After all, it's human nature.
David Cook is the award-winning city columnist for the Times Free Press, working in the same building where he began his post-college career as a sportswriter for the Chattanooga Free Press. Cook, who graduated from Red Bank High, holds a master's degree in Peace and Justice Studies from Prescott College and an English degree from the University of Tennessee at Knoxville. For 12 years, he was a teacher at the middle, high school and university ...